How Books Changed my Life:
An example of complex material organized into a timeline
Books have been an important part of my life since I was very small. My parents read picture books to me and I “read” them to my dolls and stuffed animals. I certainly read to my children and now to my grandchildren. Like many parents, I have long understood how children who grow up with books, learn to read more easily and do better in school.
This, however, is the first time I tried to identify the books that really changed my life. I will go directly to the first step on a timeline and then to the final step. If you are interested in the books themselves or how they changed my life, that information is at the end of this page.
My first attempt to create this timeline
A Quick Analysis of the Information
I was surprised to see that the books formed two clumps with a large empty space in the middle. Obviously, I wanted to understand the large empty space between about 1957 (actually 1955 if I’d connected the lines more accurately) and 1984. That meant I spent twenty years without reading a book that changed my life. Why?
There is another less obvious dividing point. Between 1984 and 1997, there are seven books listed for a thirteen year period… about one book every two years.
Then there is a break.from 1997 to 2003, followed by ten books in the next ten years. I had problems fitting them all above the line so I put some below the line.
The final timeline explains the differences
You will notice that the individual book titles were erased, but the lines showing when they were read remain.
The First Ten Years
It wasn’t too surprising that I didn’t read any books that changed my life in my first ten years. For the first five years I couldn’t read. For the next five years, I was learning to read. It was a time of PREPARATION.
The next Five Years
When I was ten years old, I found a book, “The World of Plant Life” in the library. I fell in love with chapter one: Algae. I was getting about 50 cents a week for allowance, maybe less. The book cost $12.00 so it took months to save up the money to buy a copy. The rest of the book was a boring description of each category of plants but I read and enjoys that first chapter hundreds of times. It sparked my love of science.
When I was about 12 years old, I decided I would go to MIT. In preparation, I began buying and using SAT practice books, continuing until I’d taken the SAT. I changed my mind about MIT but got such high scores that I won a top scholarship. I also believe that this discipline made it easier for me to keep up with my studies in college.
One reason I probably explored such strange and difficult books is that I was bored in school and looked for books that were more challenging. I also knew that textbooks were boring and books I chose myself were exciting. I became an INDEPENDENT LEARNER, something I continued for all of my life.
The next TWENTY-SIX Years
From about 1958 to 1983, I certainly read plenty of books. This included the final years of high school, my undergraduate days, and my first master’s degree. It also includes my marriage, the birth of my two children, eight years working in Asia and the Pacific (India, Philippines, and the Marshall Islands) with months spent in many other countries. It was obviously a time when I was extremely busy. A lot of what I read, when I had the time, was fiction.
The next thirteen years
We were back in the US. I was teaching math and science and began reading books that changed my ideas of what it meant to teach. I learned about Multiple Intelligences. I attended workshops and read books about Critical Thinking, Brain-based Teaching and Math Methods. I applied all these ideas in my classes and went on to share what I knew in many teacher training events. It was an exciting time to be a teacher.
The next several years after retiring, I cared for my mother who could no longer see well enough to drive. I was also making an effort to write mystery books. (never published.)
The last ten years
I began thinking about writing a book to share what I had learned through the years about study skills. I chose, instead, to create a website – then two websites – to share what I knew. Realizing that there was a great deal of exciting research, I spent several years doing research, and continue this.
I knew nothing about creating a website, but read books on this and finally built up my courage about three years ago and have been working on the websites since then.
Perhaps, in a few years, I’ll try turning all this research into some books, simple books, books that don’t include as much detail as the websites.
A List of the Books that Changed My Life
The books that I think a high school student could read and enjoy have 1-3 asterisks. The ones with three asterisks are those I think are most important.
You really do NOT need to read this, but I know that some people will want to know more about some of these books. Teachers will recognize many of these books.
1. The World of Plant Life. 1939. Clarence Hylander.
2. SAT Practice books – many of them over the years.
3. World Religions. I don’t remember titles or authors but I read every book in the library on the subject. I wanted to know how world religions were the same and how they were different. I did a program at my church youth group and then, to my surprise, I was asked to do a talk to the Church Men’s group. This was my first experience in public speaking.
4. My Algebra I book. It’s the only textbook on the list. I borrowed the book for the summer after taking algebra and did every problem in the book. I didn’t want to forget anything during the summer or ever. It was really another example of Independent Learning and I credit my later success in math to this experience.
Twenty-six Years Later
It is interesting that, except for my summer with an algebra book, no other textbook seemed that important. There is, however, one book I used while working on my third Master’s thesis.
**5. Use Both Sides of Your Brain. 1974. Tony Buzan. This is the book about Mindmaps. I have read it many times and tried using mind maps. Several years ago, I discovered that the real secret to learning in this little book isn’t mind maps but scheduled reviews.
Another book I studied about the same time that I forgot to add to the list was *Peak Learning by Ronald Gross. His idea of Learning Logs led to my fifty or so notebooks with detailed reading notes from that time until today.
*6. Mindtools. 1987. Rudy Rucker. This introduced me to the difference between algebra and geometry… the differences in finite numbers and measured numbers. I never understood why I didn’t learn this in school.
7. The Having of Wonderful Ideas. 1987. Eleanor Duckworth. This is an exciting small book about teaching and learning science by investigation rather than lectures.
8. The Unschooled Mind. 1991. Howard Gardner. This explains why I can teach students about Galileo proving that heavy objects do not fall faster than light ones – and discover that although they can repeat that fact, when asked if a rock or feather will hit the ground first, they know it’s the rock because it’s heavier.
9. Instrumental Enrichment. 1990. Reuven Feuerstein. This is the book I used for my thesis on Critical Thinking. It’s avery difficult book to read but his discoveries were amazing. He developed a test of learning potential, not IQ, and showed that with mediated enrichment, students classified as severely retarded could catch up with their classmates. He worked with students who heard little or no language as small children and who were retarded because of lack of early experiences.
10. Multiple Intelligences. 1993. Howard Gardner.
11. Critical Thinking. 1993. Richard Paul. I also attended several of his workshops. His books are difficult to read but he is an expert in the field.
12. How to Read a Book. 1940/1970 copyright update. Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Dorn. This is difficult to read but a classic in the field.
13. Brain-Based Learning and Teaching. 1995. Eric Jensen. I also attended workshops with Jensen. He has many easy-to-read books in this area. He doesn’t do original research but does a good job summarizing research in the area. Useful for teachers.
*14. Enriching Heredity. 1988. Marion Diamond. I probably learned about this book from Eric Jensen. It is an easy book to read covering research with rats showing those alone in a cage with nothing to do did not show brain growth. Rats sharing a cage with other rats and those with plenty of interesting toys to play with show increasing size and weight in parts of their brain. This research led to the understanding that we can actually change our own brain by using appropriate enrichment methods.
15. A User’s Guide to the Brain. 2002. John Ratey. This is a readable book covering a lot of information and research on the brain.
**16. A Whole New Mind. 2006. Daniel Pink. This very readable book surveys the skills that were valued in past years and predicts what will be valued in coming years.
***17. Start Something that Matters. 2006 Blake Mykoskie. A wonderful, easy to read book about how one individual can do to make a difference in the world. He has provided free new shoes to poor children in many parts of the world and made money doing it. I strongly recommend this book to everyone.
***18. The Brain that Changes Itself. 2007. Norman Doidge. This is the one book that I have found most revolutionary and exciting. I strongly recommend it to everyone.
***19. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. 2008. John Ratey and Eric Hagerman. I strongly recommend this book to to everyone.
**20. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. 2011. Roy Baumister and John Tierney. This tells the story of the 4 year olds who chose one marshmallow now or two later. Now they are grown up and what has been learned is amazing. If you want to develop greater willpower, read this book.
***21. The Woman Who Changed her Brain. 2012. Barbara Arrowsmith Young. One of the best stories in Norman Doidge’s book (18) is the story of this amazing woman born with physical and mental handicaps who eventually discovered a way to change the very parts of her brain that caused her problems. She now has several school for people with learning disabilities and uses methods she has developed to change the brains of her students. This means that if a student is dyslexic, he doesn’t need to just get accommodations, he can learn how to read. It is easy enough to read and an exciting story.
If you have other books to suggest, books that I might find helpful for this website, please leave a comment with title and author. Thanks.